Yoyoi Kusama, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1963)

As if to save those analysts the bother, Yayoi Kusama has already labelled Aggregation as part of her Sex Obsession series. She describes the white growths as so many phalluses.

So you might see her boat as a metaphor for the conscious mind, floating above unconscious depths. Except here, the mind has been overrun by erotic symbolism.

Not only has the rower lost control, she has vanished, leaving behind a single shoe. Her sexualised world view appears to have swallowed her up.

At the risk of pathologising, this work could well dramatise one of the breakdowns which have kept Yayoi Kusama resident in a mental hospital since the late 1970s. Certainly, it is frightening.

Whatever the artist’s actual condition, one might employ a phrase once suggested by psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger. He called schizophrenia a “theatre of terror”*.

And this trauma scene is theatrical. The scene is wallpapered with images of the boat. So the boat itself contrasts with its diminished image and appears live and auric**.

The other protagonists worth mentioning are Donald Judd, who helped Kusama salvage the boat, and Andy Warhol, who three years later was to follow her lead and produce wallpaper.

Such decorative repetition might also draw medical attention. But you can be sure it has nothing to do with the boat, and everything to do with what might be in that dark water.

Aggregation can be seen in Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern until June 5 2012. See gallery website for more details. References: * cited in Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition; ** idea explored in Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

2 thoughts on “Yoyoi Kusama, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1963)

  1. Hi I am currently writing an extensive essay about yayoi kusama and focusing on her happenings and other works related to the sexual revolution. If possible I would love to a discussion with you regarding the reactions from critiques and journalists at the time. Kind Regards Ebba.

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